Content Notice: eating disorder.
It’s no secret that I’m recovered from an Eating Disorder. Part of why I became part of the Body Love community was to support others suffering from disordered eating, and I’m very transparent about my past. Even with clients, I sometimes find myself sharing parts of my Eating Disorder recovery journey to help them on their path to health.
Still, my kids are young and don’t know about this part of me yet. I’m keeping it that way until it’s appropriate to share this with them as part of my work to make sure they don’t develop disordered eating habits.
I am the oldest of three children. I’m also a recovering Type A overachiever and a caregiver by nature. While I had incredible skills to get great grades, balance work, school, and extracurriculars, mediate and manage family meetings and social obligations, I did not have many coping skills. I, like most kids, was stressed and overwhelmed by demands placed on me. Many of these demands were self-imposed, but some were not.
At the age of nine, I started walking a neighbor’s dog after school as my first “job,” and shortly after that, I began babysitting the neighborhood kids. I was high achieving in honors classes and expected myself to get A’s across the board. I was involved in every school performance whether it be singing, dancing, or theatrical. I took dance classes every day after school and on Saturday mornings. These things made me happy and gave me purpose and a sense of belonging, which is arguably the most important thing for an adolescent.
They also created stress in my life. And I didn’t know how to deal with it.
I learned coping skills, as most kids do, by watching my parents. My mother coped with stress by managing the family’s finances down to the penny, clipping and organizing coupons from the Sunday paper each week and going through the supermarket mailers to find the best sales. She balanced the checkbook religiously and took pride in her frugality. To this day, I feel a sense of calm working my way through each weekly sales flyer and creating lists for our grocery runs. That said, this wasn’t an effective tool for me as I was entering my teenage years, so I learned more from watching my father during this time.
My parents had a cabinet above the microwave that contained the sweets in the house. We weren’t allowed soda and rarely had juice or candy around, but that cabinet always had something in it that was special. Maybe Chanukah gelt or chocolate covered almonds, perhaps some Girl Scout cookies purchased to support a neighbor or honey roasted peanuts — there was always something sweet in that particular, mostly off-limits place.
I can recall watching my father stand in front of that cabinet, quickly eating a few handfuls of whatever was available, and I learned to do the same. While my mother would be getting dressed for the day upstairs or teaching a piano lesson in the studio down the hall from the kitchen, my father (and later me) would shovel the delicious treat down, barely chewing for fear of being “caught.”
This started a bingeing pattern for me that led to weight gain after high school. I went from dancing 20+ hours per week to two. I struggled to make friends in college because I was in a relationship with someone back in my hometown, and I felt I needed to come home each weekend to see him. I felt betrayed by a friend who was supposed to be my roommate who chose to room with someone else without telling me, leaving me to show up at my dorm to meet a stranger instead of someone I trusted.
So I ate my feelings.
This started the binge/restrict pattern that we all know leads to an Eating Disorder. It was years later and with ED-specific treatment that I have recovered from anorexia. I haven’t experienced a relapse in over eight years, and this is something I’m incredibly proud of.
I’m also terrified though because I know eating disorders run in families — I only have to look at my father to know I was destined for this — and I don’t want my kids to go through the same.
So I am doing a few things to prevent my children from inheriting my eating disorder, and I’m hoping and wishing and praying that it works.
Firstly, I model all the coping skills. I do yoga every day. I meditate and take long baths. I go for walks in the sunshine with my shoes off. I go to therapy. I talk about my feelings, and I spend time with friends who ”get” me. I read self-care books. I cook and eat healthy, delicious food with my family. I clean my house and pay my bills, being open about budgeting money for things that are fun AND things that are necessities. I journal and do art projects. I declutter the house and give to those less fortunate. I pet our dog. Surely, something I’m modeling will resonate with my kids, and they’ll have more tools than I did to deal with the unavoidable stress of being a human being.
Next, I show my body all the love in front of my kids. I walk around naked after a shower. I use luxurious lotion and dry brush my skin. I rub myself down with essential oils, and I teach them to do the same, safely and with intention. I acknowledge that I am beautiful and strong and my body is full of superpowers like making and feeding babies, pedaling a bicycle, and standing upside down on my head. I take my body to the dermatologist to get moles checked and eczema treated and, even in the midst of the worst flare-up, I still say out-loud, in front of my kids, that my body is awesome and that I am gorgeous.
And finally, there are no off-limits foods in our family. While I am vegan and choose to buy (mostly) vegan food for my family, I let my children choose the M&M yogurt at the grocery store sometimes (if it’s on sale or I have a coupon, of course), and they can pick whatever they want on the menu when we go out to eat. They’ll often have something sweet as part of their meals, and they can choose when and how much to eat of it. I don’t eat in secret, and I do my best to have all meals eaten mindfully and together, at the table, without technology.
We eat food because it tastes good, it fuels our bodies, and it brings us pleasure.
We don’t eat to avoid feeling our emotions or as a coping strategy, and that is something I do talk about — along with how incredible their bodies are! We talk about our strong muscles, powerful legs, and beautiful lines as we practice yoga, walk through the neighborhood, or put on dance performances for one another. I’m teaching my children to love their bodies so much that they’ll always want to take excellent care of them in every way, and I believe that’s how we’ll end the Eating Disorder cycle in this family.